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All my life I've waited for days the wait for days that wait forever


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Ah but it felt good to be on her feet again. Instead of the ground jolting beneath her, she was back in control. Saline shucked the ring off, dropping it carefully into the pouch she carried at the belt. The other contents of her pouch had darkened her face when she dared not use illusions. Although she was scrubbing the dye onto her face, and the back of her neck, it seemed a metaphor for wiping away one's burdens. Well, lessened one's burdens, at least. Feeling as if somebody had taken a paddle to her hoopy-doopy, she resolved to add another saddle cloth next time. That would surely help with the cushioning. Testing the ground gingerly, she was more than relieved to walk, albeit an unsteadily gait bereft of confidence. Plus, she walked slightly bowlegged, as her inner thighs chaffed against the rough of her dark pantaloons. Hopefully this pair won't come away bloodied later; much time was needed to run the material under cold water, and all in all it was simply better not to bleed on clothing for once.


Entering the inn was a triumphant moment and one she savoured with much more glee than was good for her health. Finding her way around in the wilderness was never an easy task, heck, navigating with a compass was no picnic either, and after a long day on the road, she almost bounded to the counter for a long-awaited meeting. But she forced herself to go slow, and shuffling, in that unfortunate gait, her eyes tried to look at everything, and nothing.


The Prancing Horse had a questionable reputation and its suspiciously low profile did not boost the morale. No gleeman or harpers graced the common room, where miners and disgruntled workers, vagabonds and mercenaries loitered. In her simple yet effective outfit she merged right into the crowd. A rough crowd indeed, would they do? She wanted only the toughest of the tough, the more outrageous the appearance of her companion the less attention others would pay to her. Calling out for a round in a disguised accent she was familiar with, the woman considered the filed teeth, took in the tattoos, drank in the scars like they were lightly spiced mulled wine, her cold mind assessing that the fewer scars, more effective a fighter. However, she did not have need of a real fighter, per se. In a lowered voice, she inquired "I do be wanting protection that do be good; do there be such a guard?"


"Yessem," the innkeep, a sanguine rosy-cheeked figure who seemed so out of place with the patrons, hushed as well. He leaned toward her, whispering confidentially with the zeal of one who loved to gossip. "He sleeps in the woods, and fights whomever crosses his path. I have never seen him lose. It is said that he trains at night, but I have never seen this myself."


Liking what she heard, she looked to where he pointed. The man's back was to her (she had not noticed him in her inspection before), and normally she would have ordered another flagon to slip across the table facing him, but upon seeing the fancloth she grinned. Reaching out, she barely tapped his shoulder before the Warder whirled.


Corwin decided it was time to take a break from training. It had been a long time since he had taken the night off first instead of coming in tired to relax some. The Prancing Horse was always a favorite spot of his. As he walked in, he saw the subtle looks as people assessed him. He didn't care though. He wore his fancloth to keep trouble away. Most people would have thought he was here on some Aes Sedai mission. But he didn't care, if they knew anything about a Warder, like most of the people at Tar Valon, they would know he didn't go anywhere far from her, and the fact he didn't have a woman following him was only a sign that he had lost her. Making him all the more dangerous and volatile in their eyes.


As he ordered Whiskey, he sat so that he could see the door, yet he angled himself so that people couldn't sneak up on him. He didn't want any surprises. As he drank down his mug he ordered another. Only this time he saw Her in it. She still haunted him. That night flashed through his mind. When He was with Calliste, probably his only true love. Running to save Eleanor, leaping down from the banister, not caring if he broke anything. She needed him. But he got there too late. Just as he saw the person disappear with Eleanor. The person he was sworn to protect.


Growling lowly he told her Why don't you show yourself. I know you're still out there...even if I can't prove it to anyone. If you won't show yourself get out of my head. Suddenly she was gone. Relaxing he took another deep gulp. But suddenly he felt the tap on his shoulder. Grabbing the small War hammer hidden by his fancloth he whirled. If she had truly come, he wasn't going to let anything bad happen. She had murdered Calliste, he knew it in his gut, but he would never be able to prove it to the Tower, and he knew that. Calliste would always be an unsolved case to them. But he was stopped. Corwin was smart enough to make it look like he stopped himself. If She wanted that much secrecy, he wasn't going to give her problems.


Only it wasn't Her. Putting it away he saw the tension level decrease, but it was still on edge. This was the kind of place that could erupt anytime. As she took a seat he kept his voice low. "And what is it you want?" Taking another gulp of whiskey he ordered another mug. "I don't like visitors sneaking up on me. Much less one with your...Talents..."


No sheen of perspiration dampened her brow, but she was aware of the facts. It was one of those situations that should have been simple, but turned out to be way stickier than she expected. She was not in trouble, but still felt glad for her Talent, as the man had dubbed it, although her way with Saidar was more ability, and skill, while her actual talent resided in a rare specialization with Earth. Despite this knowledge she had not fooled herself in supposing she was more than mediocre in the other elements, and it was hardened strands of Air, not Earth, that she had looked for when Saidar was embraced. In sooth, she had not expected to channel but to her defense her hand would have been crushed by that War hammer of his. It was a good thing he did not struggle and instead he relaxed his grip, so not to blow her cover. For that neat act of discretion which protected her decency, Saline permitted the bonds that encased the weapon to loosen, although she prepared another weave, just in case. He was agile, struck too rapidly for her to unsheathe the scimitar in time to parry, and she would have to block anything he threw at her with her "talent", if necessary.


Acting as befitting her character, she flustered gracefully, as if embarrassed that she had startled him. "Why, pardon me" here she decided to abandon the Illianer accent she had adopted, for if he was to keep her company on the mission he would know her for an impostor, and now was not the time to give more fuel to his suspicions. The tension was so solid that one could cut through it, and he probably felt as the young girl surrounded by big, brawny men would have, since she had the edge on him. Casting her glance downwards it crawled between the sturdy boots, although she was really thinking about the few scars she espied over his thick arms, the lithe tone of his body, and the dread-locks that framed his face when he addressed her, his back in tightened knots. Sympathy, yes, but a fear roused in her as well. No Aes Sedai accompanied this man, or else like any woman who had been channeling for years, that Sister would have sensed the piddling of Saidar Saline had used to stop the blow from smiting her. She had naught against the Tower Guards, in fact some of her best friends had sported the red cloak, but this stranger wore the fancloth, its pattern of colours ever-changing, never setting. Was this a failed Warder she had before her, then? One way or another, he was still tied to the Tower. And could she trust his intentions? Time would tell.


Dark fringed lashes batted cutely in response to this. "Master Wilkes had not told me your name, Gaidin." To anybody else she would have appeared to be flirting, but the warm smile did not reach the corners of her eyes. Nay, he was too old for her liking.


She didn't have the ageless face, but she knew too much...the way she carried herself. She was a newly raised Sister. Corwin had seen enough of them. As he eyed her up and down quickly he took another sip before answering. "If you want my services, you’re out of luck. That life left me long ago." He could see her puzzled look. But he didn't need to justify himself to her. He had lived his life the best he knew now. It was just too bad she didn't notice the cut-purse taking her money. Corwin waited till he was done and threw her dagger. He could see the shocked look on her face. But she knew it wasn't going for her. As the man's hand stuck in the booth's wood there was a scream. Everyone in the Inn jumped out of their chairs ready for a fight. But when Corwin pulled the knife out of the man's hand and said loudly "No one steals from her. Cut purses especially." Throwing the man to the ground, Corwin grabbed her wrist and led her out of the Inn."


Leading her along he said back, "You better get going before his friends come t..." an dagger took a lock of his hair and nicked his ear. Whirling around Corwin found himself in front of five men. Turning back to her Corwin growled, "Don't you use your Talents...we don't need any more trouble." Corwin knew it was his fault they were there, but he didn't care. The five surrounded him and he didn't wait. Rushing the first man, Corwin gave a solid uppercut and pivoted left to elbow the next man. All he wanted to do was knock them out and leave them for the Guards. But as he made contact with the second man he felt a knee in his back. Catching himself from falling, Corwin pushed himself back and kicked the man in the face. But then the other two had their swords. By the way they held them Corwin knew they weren't very good with them. With a grin, they charged, but Corwin just slid left, grabbed the man's arm and whirled him around to get the best of his right fist. Now it was just one, and he was too slow to react. Corwin simply threw his friend on top of him and the man yelled. But with a solid right kick the man fell to the ground as well. The fight was over and Corwin was done.


A façade and as expected he did not fall for it, earning some of her respect. Instead he seemed to be waiting for something to happen; she was forced to concede, and wait for his reply. Over at the other table people were setting up a board, drawing her away from simply feeling frustrated with the Gaidin's lack of response. Granted, she had not thought the rabble would be sophisticated enough for such a game as Stones, but then again it was a contention for territory, and if there was one objective to every patron here it was in swindling resources and other shady dealings. What was fun with Stones was the way people approach it, and their moves belied their thoughts. When first she played she was focused on taking stones and overwhelming her opponent, but since she had to take more risks her strategies had to rely on others making the mistakes, when they failed to notice her weaknesses. However, a few games with her contact had proven that masters paid more mind to the bigger structure, the crenels and "eyes" that took up space, and became formidable traps even as they defended the board. Aye, it was an exhilarating game, and despite being a poor player, she still enjoyed watching a battle of wills pitched amongst the more experienced players. The two toughs were not bad, and this captured her attention, as she watched them, enrapt.


Then he made his move, causing an awful din. Perhaps that was triggered by the slow predator on the prowl, these slender fingers, so long and confident, but soft, it was not his own pouch that he was taking the coins out of. As the Gaidin's dagger flew by, Saline blanched, following its trajectory to the thief's hand, the knife it had clung to before that clunked unto the sawdust floor. That pierced hand was easily recognizable, since it darkened with her dye, and beneath the blood, patches of skin wore the same colouring as her own. This time she did not feign the blood draining from her, as her heart lost warmth. It was but a man, but all the same, it could have been … Aurora. That was a frightening prospect, and she resolved to be alert next time.


Her tummy unsettled as the Gaidin lurched, retrieving his dagger. The screaming had been cut, thankfully, but the blood spurted gusts of dark, oily fluid. A momentary fear took over Saline as she stared at the belligerent crowd, and she tensed, she who never took much stock in irrationality. Knowing the onslaught of anxiety for irrationality, she grounded her fears into the spring as she tapped into that well, the meditative state that had always helped her in the past. Her first thought had been to protect him, but she knew they only needed to get out of here, and the Warder could surely handle himself.


As if he read her mind he dragged her toward the entrance and she followed, relieved. Once they were outside she did have to wrench her wrist since he had already released it. Saline settled for rubbing her reddened wrist ruefully. "Getting the bloodstains out would be difficult, if not facilitated by talents." While it was not the wittiest thing that ever passed her lips she had never supposed herself to be clever like some girls back in the Towers were, and it was due to her stubbornness that she had prevailed where few had succeeded. Although the shawl wasn't around her shoulders, its presence made itself felt. That shawl kept her in check, stopped her from drawing her scimitar as he pushed her back, and could only grip the dagger Tirzah had made her tightly. It was one of the power-wrought pairs, and she hoped the carrier of its twin dagger found herself in a more opportune situation.


Real life was not the bubble that the Tower had been, that was known danger, at least, whereas this was a path full of unknown dangers. She had chosen her path, and perhaps one of the things all Sisters learned was to make a worse situation sound better. As she watched helplessly, the fancloth and dreadlocks seemed everywhere, as the Gaidin dispatched his multiple opponents with speed and skill. Well, he was the real thing, she thought wryly. That answered one question.


More questions burned inside. Why had he confronted the cut-purse, knowing the latter had accomplices? He had warned the patrons not to steal from her, drawing their obvious displeasure, and the associated dangers to himself. Was this what having a Warder would be like? A small part of her mind wondered if she was wrong about her whole non-bonding stance. She hastily edited her assumptions, reassessing the man. He was old, old and dangerous. Tread carefully, lest you step on me. Failed warders reminded her of gentled men. They either bond another, sometimes even marry, or they wander about deliberately seeking out trouble until they die. "Are you a man of your word? I want your services, and you will escort me to Elmora because," she forestalled any arguments by listing in a rush "the Guards will be here any second, they know where you live, and it is your duty to stop people from stealing off my person." A fail-proof statement, she reckoned; besides, chances like this come around too little, and she was stubborn.


Are you a man of your word? I want your services, and you will escort me to Elmora because, the Guards will be here any second, they know where you live, and it is your duty to stop people from stealing off my person.


Corwin grinned. "MY duty is to no one. I merely saved your scrawny neck. Now if you don't want trouble follow me." Corwin knew they were close. Darting to an alley he got behind an alley and waited for her to catch up. "If you don't want trouble you're gonna have to hide here with me under my cloak." Seeing her hesitate, Corwin then began hearing the Guards yells. The Aes Sedai's hesitation was over. Coming and crouching with him behind the box, Corwin draped the cloth over them. It fit, barely. He was lucky there was a box to block one side.


Dropping his voice to a very low whisper he said "If you want an escort then you're gonna have to be honest. I know how you do everything, you might not say a lie, but it's not the full truth. I'm not going to take that. I won’t put my neck out for you if you won’t tell me what I'm getting into." Corwin could see her considering everything. But there wasn't time. She was about to say something, but there was a Guard coming. They were doing a through search. Taking his hand, he covered her mouth quickly before she could say anything. Her eyes widened, but he motioned to her that a Guard was close. He wasn't about to let trouble come from her.


Watching Corwin readied to move. If they found them, he was going to have to think fast. And he didn't want to draw more attention then he needed. He had enough problems already. The Guard turned, but not because his search finished. There was another brawl. For now, things would remain a mystery.


Scrawny was a bit harsh. Saline was not tall, and normally she would have disliked any reminder of her pint-sized stature but this was one moment when being small felt pretty good. Sure, her knee still dug into the wood of the carton that blocked them from view, but that was better than being where the Guards could see them. Besides, it wasn't as if the big Warder had not taken the liberties of pinning her with his sharp elbows. She had half a mind to elbow him back, but that probably won't elicit more than a grunt.


Obviously he didn't trust her to keep quiet, and soon she had a fresh problem to tackle. What would you do, if you had a man's fingers practically pressing into your mouth? For a terrible moment she was tempted to open wide and … nibble just to see if the Warder would scream instead, but then again she doubted it. Instead she suppressed her irritation by assuming the well-spring and spent a few minutes hearing the blood rush into her ears, and contemplating how exactly did she end up crunching onto her legs.


She was still staring at his retreating back when he turned, yanked her down and muffled her with his cloak. It was a symbol, a status that only certain individuals were able to attain, and as clearly as the shawl had been with her, the power of the fancloth was with him. The inside of a fancloth was an unexpected uniform colour, black as it turned out, while she thought the colours were constant throughout. Briefly she wondered how that worked, were there two layers, and whether she could persuade 'Rome to lend her his for a more careful examination. Right now she had seen enough of the fancloth, which was thankfully clean, and would have been more than happy to part with its elusive insides.


His arms were stronger than Rory's but the feel of them around her did nothing to excite her heart. She was getting a creak in her neck, and dreadfully uncomfortable now that she was cramped into the dark of an alley with the man, even if he was a Gaidin and therefore sworn to protect the Aes Sedai. Irritated by the necessity of having to crouch while he kept watch, she took the opportunity to stare up at him, dazed as he continuously contorted his body to make more room under the cloak, his green eyes reminding her of a praying mantis.


When the coast was clear she brushed off the dust, while he spoke. Listening closely, she could see that he had dealt extensively with her kind before, and perhaps there was some sort of a misunderstanding. She eyed him just as warily. Oh, she knew she was trustworthy, but would he be as dependable? After all his Aes Sedai was gone, either left, or more probably had perished. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that he was old, dangerous and smart. When would the adjectives stop coming? And where?


"Quite the contrary, your duty is to she who held your bond, and her brethren. Contend if you must but the protection in this fancloth, and the work, the training that your mentors instilled in you have saved me, not you. To be honest, I do not dread the day when you have made a better acquaintance with the world, so you do not seek to bargain with talented women any more. You and I are but tools tied to the same cause, promoting one banner. Why would I lie to you, Master…?"


Not exactly an expression of gratitude so much as an ambiguous probe, but it was so carefully worded it would have made any of her sisters proud.


Corwin stood there and let the silence stretch. He wasn't going to let this woman rule his life. He gave her a hard look up and down for a bit. "Very well. You can find me in the woods." With that Corwin left to prepare. He wasn't going to be unprepared to travel soon. As he walked off he could tell she wanted to know his name, among other things....like if he was even still Bonded.


But all of that wasn't important. She could call him anything she wanted for all he cared. Life in the Void eliminated almost all care...and these days Corwin simply lived in it constantly. He didn't need emotion, he didn't need the troubles of life.


As he reached the Yard he began his training. Climbing up on the nearest building, Corwin began his sword forms. Narrow roofs with large falls always encouraged someone to keep their balance. But he was trying to learn a new weapon, the War hammer. As he went through some of the forms, he realized the great increase in damage a blunt weapon could incur. But now was not the time to practice till he was exhausted. He needed to go pack.


People walking away was while unpleasant, still the phenomena she became fast friends with. She would follow, as she had learned to throughout the years, but not at the moment. First, she dwelled on what little she knew of him. He was not the enemy. She had to remember that. He did chose to save her, just as she had chosen this path. It was a danger that he did not have to take, despite the rigorous training of his mentors at the Warder Yards. The good acts were not conditioned into the person, so much as the nature of the individual himself. Once that was sorted out in her mind she looked to tackle the priority, which was to get him to escort him. Complications include, oh his need to prove his independence, that protecting Sisters was no longer his "life". What was his life? She would find this out, and when she secured that, she would persuade him that his destiny lay with the Tower.


She was in no hurry to pitch her will against his. He gave her an invitation and she would come on her own time, with her terms. Somehow she had to show him that, contrary to his belief and experience, she did not wish to control him. Nor, when she explored her mind, would she like to befriend him, but he had spoken back to her, and like it or not he was stuck with her until she had gotten to the bottom of this current development. Perhaps once, when she was younger she would have been content to leave matters where they were, but those things had a good way of returning to haunt her if she neglected them.


Such as the matter of returning to the stables for her gelding. Luckily Gryngolet was still waiting for her, and she dismissed the stable-hand with a sweet and a sweeter smile. There was no reason to impress her troubles on the innocent. Reaching into her saddlebags she took out a bruising balm she had kept of Lyssa's. The thought of her Mentor made her feel better, and once the pain in the nether regions had cleared she realised how hungry she was. Feeling no inclination for the ill-named fare inside The Prancing Horse she led Gryngolet through a remote market for some bread and pastries. When she paid for the goods she had to admit it was fair for her to treat the other, after all he had prevented the thief from robbing her monies. Putting her purchases into a basket, she topped this with the last, and a special addition of her own. That little canister of Mistress Laras' best brew she had saved just for a little softening, although she lacked the mint for curing a morning head the following morning.


With her basket of food and that magical little canister, she strolled into the clearing a map check and an hour later, after a moment of watching him go through the forms with the shiny War hammer. So he did train in the woods after all. He had heard her approaching but like before did not move until she was within range. She hesitated, looking from his striking face to the crusted blood of his nicked ear before reaching toward her bosom. As little as a score ago she would not lend anybody this; time had replenished her losses, leaving her neither as devastated nor destitute as she would have thought. The handkerchief smelt of both apples and the extract of honeysuckle, and apart from the oddly mixed scent it was embroidered skillfully.


Handing him the handkerchief, she said: "For your ear. Just because your manners are unkempt doesn't mean you have to look so hard on the eyes. You are not in want of intelligence, so what are you waiting for? Dig in!" She grinned and tore a piece off the cornbread she had prepared. A fabulous explosion of flavours in her mouth followed, perking her spirits. Of all the unexpected happenings during the day, she found the market's produce to be the most fulfilling. "Mmff, this is rather good."


Corwin wasn't looking for a handout, he knew how to get food. But he didn't need to be rude. She didn't know how he really was, but he didn't quite trust her yet. But if he was going to travel with her, he was going to need to have that. As much as he might not like it. Nevertheless he had told her he would, so he would; he still couldn't figure out why he said what he did.


"My manner as there, I just never like to have an Aes Sedai suddenly waltzing into my life...." Corwin saw the raised nose she gave. But she ignored it and went on eating her food. Sitting down on his hammock Corwin began to eat some. It was useless though, since he had lost Elle....food was all the same. He didn't know if he had just lost his taste or what. He had no desire for food most of the time, but he knew he needed to eat so he did.


Once they finished their mean Corwin climbed on his horse, he never did bother naming this one. He never bothered anymore. As they set out Corwin didn't bother with the standard conversation, she could ask or talk whenever she felt ready, he didn't mind silence. As they came to the bridge Corwin nodded to the Guards. They had seen him come and go a good bit, this was nothing new to them. Except now he had a traveling companion, a female one, and his fancloth. He was sure rumors would spread about him being bonded again. No matter though. He didn't care what anyone thought, he didn't have to answer to them.


With one look back Corwin took a deep breath and let it out. Yet again he was leaving...leaving his life. Only this trip wouldn't take a few years like before....


Maybe he did not agree with her, but he was eating the bread, and ready to go the next second. Her mind boggled at the differences in perception, his and hers, toward their luncheon. She had heard of the Whites arguing “what is” and “what we experience” were completely different, such as an experiment with cold, hot, and warm water that was conducted, where the subjects had to stick one hand into the cold, the other into the hot, take them out and put both hands into the warm water. The cold hand would feel as though it were scalding, and the hot suffering the opposite, that it was freezing. The subjects had experienced differently, and therefore their minds told them differently to the same basin of warm water. It was all quite interesting, but still did not alter the fact he ate without relish.


Perhaps this was life for a failed Warder, his experiences affecting him so badly that he would not be permitted to enjoy life. Blow that, this served to confirm that she was right not to bond, for a bond was a compulsive idea, whereas Tower Guards, or even failed Warders could accompany Aes Sedai and protect them just fine without the strings attached. Soon it was clear to her that Reds did not seek to control men, that they loved the men enough to understand their need for freedom. This spiritless man who saddled his spiritless horse, he was the product of such an arrogance. Bonding was an unnecessary endeavour that only brought pain, despite the benefits.


A sudden shift in perspectives as her stomach fell and gurgled cornbread brought her into the present. Gryngolet had dipped his head into a cluster of wild alfalfas, and in response she pressed the gelding more firmly with her legs. She was not the most competent of riders around, but she was no atha’an miere either thanks to her penance in the stables with these beasts. Gryngolet treated Saline considerably gentler than Jaydena’s star-kissed Aldeba, and she did not have to press much tighter to get the gelding moving again.


There were two ways out of the city, and she led them along the path to the bridge, not wanting any dealings with the harbour. Besides, it was as good a time in the day to set off as any, and they could make a fair amount of progress before nightfall when they’d be hard-pressed to journey on without setting up camp.


At their destination though, she groaned. The guards along the bridge gave her such a look of approbation that she longed to explain to them that it was not how this appeared, and although he wore a fancloth, he was not bonded to her, if he still had the bond. Somehow from the listless way he ate she doubted it, and that forced her to be more kind than she wanted to show. Raising her hood, not so much to conceal any power slowed features as to keep the pity from showing, she reached into her pouch for the one item she had spent days poring over in the Tower.


Brightened eyes scanned the features circled on her map, then lifted to the geography above. Dense vegetation populated the area, pushing the already faded road into obscurity. There was no indication that the woods around her could be thinned, and this was definitely not a fork. Perhaps the fork was further ahead? Unlike their cousins, the sickly mite-ridden growths of the borderlands, these trees loomed majestically, upright with pride, varying from sycamore, to elm, to sugar maple and even the sparse clusters of fruit trees, outnumbered by the dominant species -- the smell of fresh pines inundated her senses. Her head brushed a low hanging branch, laden with pink and white blossoms. The pale sun struck the trees, splitting the tops like golden-leaf, flickering shade and light as its circles danced upon her dappled arms.


She was aware of the man, knowing well he existed beside her, although sometimes she’d have to turn her head for evidence of his continued presence. He sat his mount with a careless skill, confidently, but somewhat detached. No alfalfas for his mount. She had not bothered to ask the name of the horse, when she did not gain the name of the man. He must have taken refuge in the Void, for he spoke flatly when addressed, and acted as mechanically as a pair of scissors. Ter’angreals had more creativity, more passion for life than he. Or so it seemed, and she believed it to be true. When they crossed over, he showed a measure of emotion, and she was once more wide-eyed with surprise. The man had so many layers to him onions would weep. And she still did not know his name. Sigh.


They rode in silence for an interval in time, and she understood the need for quiet so not to disturb wildlife or alert any eyes to their presence, but could not resist pointing her companion’s attention to a rose, the first bloom out of the briars. Roses were Rory’s favourite flowers, and Saline slowed to admire them, “doesn’t that smell divine? And look,” a finger stabbed into the horizons, “we must be moving south: the moss and other growths are thicker on this side!”


Corwin nodded. He had lost a lot of his sense of beauty in the world... "it...is nice." He didn't know how to respond. He had lost so much in his life since his trip. It was so hard to want to go on living with Eleanor gone, but he knew he could do it. He lived his life for himself now...and started finding some peace with that. But then she came along.


As they went south, Corwin saw the sun would be going down soon. He didn't know how used to the night her eyes were, so he pulled his horse to the side of the road. Dismounting, Corwin looked to her and said "we'll camp here." It was a nice patch in some trees, a small slope downward that he could easily make it a campsite. The ground had broken away to a small two foot drop on one side with exposed tree roots. He didn't know what caused it but he wasn't going to worry too much.


Grabbing a few rocks, Corwin began making a fire ring. They weren't too worried about secrecy so he didn't mind leaving evidence of their path. Once a fire was started Corwin went to search for a couple small, but thick logs. After a bit of searching he found a couple. Dragging them back, Corwin put them on opposite sides of the fire.


It was question time, he knew she had been holding some in, but he didn't know how much he wanted to reveal of himself. It all depended on how much she was willing to put forth as well. Starting into the fire, Corwin waited for her to begin. He wasn't going to try and pry information of an Aes Sedai. That was useless. But it was a time for them both to find just how well this trip was going to go. As he stared into the fire waiting, he thought he saw Elle in the flames for a second...It was enough to break him from the Void.


But maybe he needed to start going back to how he was before...when the Void was only a last resort. Maybe then he would find more...beauty in life. Something more worth living for. But only time would tell if this was a wise decision...


Despite the balm, her bottom ached something fierce, and when he said they could stop, she wasn't about to argue with making camp. The wise facilitated when circumstances change, after all, and in this camp the change was for good. He worked with a deft efficiency at setting up fire and a tent, while she lingered to give the horses some feed before looking for some water. Nay, she did not seek out a stream so much as to use her water-skins, it was not the herbs so important as the quality of the water used to make her favorite brew.


As she searched, she gathered the other provisions, and divided them into portions. Taking out some cheese and bread, as well as jasmine tea, she set aside the lion of the share for him. It would not do for the man to fall ill on her watch, for he would be a liability to her mission. By then he had started the fire, and she scooted closer to the circle, disliking the way one side would be burning while the other cold, and unshielded from the elements.


Her hands cupped a mug of the bitter tea, stealing what little warmth they could. She did not employ the Power to ward their campsite, it would draw more attention than could be deterred, and besides, the man might not like that, even if he could not sense her weaves. Rather she munched on the leftover cornbread for a while, content to spend the night in this sheltered grove.


One of the advantages about bringing along a Gaidin was that she did not have to pay him wages. She had prepared a purse for the mercenary she was planning to hire as her red herring, but to offer him the purse could be taken as a grievous insult. What he wanted in exchange for his service, she did not know. In sooth, she suspected he might not have known either.


In addition to this, it was past time for them to both decide who they were, to one another. Would he present his nice side, or did he resent her disruption of his routine? By the light, but he was old enough to be her father. Her questions remained unresolved, but she did not ask any. It was a trick she had learnt, how not to ask questions when others expected you to. Sooner or later, they would talk, ‘cept she had to seem like she was in control. She could talk at him, though; he would be forced to listen to her, or not. Most people didn't listen to each other, anyway.


Slowly, she raised her teacup. "A penny for your thoughts."


Corwin could see it, it was a battle of wills in a sense. She might not have the ageless face, but she wasn't stupid. That brought some hope at least. As he looked through the firelight his thoughts were interrupted by her comment. "A penny for your thoughts." He considered it all for a few moments. He didn't even know the woman really.


After a few more moments he took a deep breath and let it out. "Sometimes the pattern takes some interesting turns in our lives.... But it's up to us to not resist it." Raising his head he saw she had a questioning look on her face. "I'll just leave it at the fact that I don't know why the Pattern had you run into me, but there must be something. Now how about that penny back for yours?"


He didn't know what to make of the whole situation, but it would be resolved sometime...


The conversation lulled, less out of awkwardness than the little by little process of a person gathering her thoughts. The Red had listened while he talked, but it was as if she was not there, for even as he addressed her he was trying to work out some ideas. Though Saline hadn't really understood him at first, he supplied this with a response more elucidated, and she looked at him hard. That sun-burnt face had not shown a deeper side before, and in that answer she could tell his philosophy was to accept the changes she had deliberately inflicted unto his life. Nevertheless, the effort to explain his thinking was there and like it or not she owed him some answers. She was tempted just to brush off his question with asking the rate and weight of the penny, but luckily resisted the temptation. As for her thoughts, she did not want to offend, but something about the way he had clung to his fancloth had bothered her. He hid under it like it was a safety blanket, when in actuality if he had lost his Aes Sedai it was against the rules to wear a fancloth. She had two choices. One was to cover her thoughts with a half truth, perhaps tell him her life story, or about Rory, whom she always thought about anyway. Or she could tell him straight and simple, the honest to goodness truth. It was almost ridiculous, but sometimes what sounded good in theory was hard in the real life.


"You said you never liked the Aes Sedai to waltz into your life. Well, if it brings you any comfort, I had not planned on bringing a Gaidin with me. I wanted a cover that would look intimidating, but when it comes to fighting, well, they did not have to walk the walk. Instead I've found you. I cannot pretend that your fighting skills are not an asset, because they are, but they're not why I've brought you along. But if we are to travel together, when we're on the road again I need you to take that fancloth off, to protect both of us from fights we do not have to engage. You don't know me, but you will know what kind of person I am. I am weak in the Power, and would prefer cautiousness over confrontation. Is this alright with you?"


The Red looked into the dark liquid, swirling it.


"Oh, you should try this tea. It's bitter, but if you want sugar I do have some cubes for Gryngolet in the bag. He won't mind." Grinning at the prospect of putting gelding and Gaidin together, "sharing is caring, after all."


Weak in the Power?  Corwin didn't know how to take that one.  No Aes Sedai would admit their strength to a Gaidin, let alone a failed Gaidin.  Especially one she had just barely met.  Corwin took a few moments to ponder what she had said.  Getting up he grabbed his belongings, he needed his regular cloak, he didn't use it much until he came to cities, but if she wanted it out this early he could comply with that.


Pulling out his cloak, he turned and asked "What Ajah do ye belong to anyway?  I... have a few...friends...mixed in with the various Ajahs."  He could see her pondering what he had said, but he knew better then to rush an answer from an Aes Sedai.  He was content with waiting and packing his Fancloth back into his bag among his more ornate daggers.  He didn't like too fancy of things, but a few weapons had been given to him on various trips.  He wished he had brought a blade that didn't look so fancy.  His Katana had been his most expensive weapon.  Crafted in the Yards, the had gotten the Heron engraved in it's blade and hilt.  But it was the hilt that was the most expensive.  An ivory base wit the Heron engraved in the part that wasn't  coverd in shark skin.  He loved the blade, but it did attract a little bit of attention from anyone that saw it.


"Gaidin," he head her call, turning around he saw her standing defiantly, "Red."  Turning back around, Corwin moved his scabbards.  If she wanted to not be noticed, he needed his Katana on his hip, hid in the cloak, and his Scimitar over his shoulder.  Corwin had never traveled with a Red, and he had never thought he would.  But life had it's surprises.  Like his daughter becoming Bonded while he was gone.  But others couldn't put their lives on hold for him.


But if she was going to be so boldly honest with him, he might as well let her know the answers to questions he knew she had.  "Aes Sedai," he said over his shoulder as he turned around.  As she looked up he let his deep breath out, "I was once bonded to Eleanor Sedai of the Green Ajah... I am Corwin."  That was all he was willing to put out for now....




Corwin & Saline


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Such a direct person, it came as no surprise that he reacted so reasonably, and she was glad to have persuaded him to exchange his fancloth for another cloak, it showed he possessed as much savoir-faire as she suspected. Not only had he complied to her suggestions, but he had taken care to cover his weapons as well. This meant he could be reasoned with, and she found that sense attractive in anybody, young or old. Then he asked her for her Ajah, which would tell him the Sisters she identified with, the Cause she lived for, and so much more.


Saline paused, faced with the dilemma of how to gently break open the wall. The wall was mostly hers, her hesitation making every moment that went on worse. There were cracks, sure, but those could easily spout ivy, poisoned with prejudices if he learnt her aspiration. The thing about being in her Ajah was, people never seemed to expect you to be friendly. Worse, they became surprisingly hostile even if you were friendly just a moment ago. You were (expected to be) a bossy battleaxe spurned by too many men, or you were the psychotic sadist spurred by the hatred of the said men, or you were blessed with both desperation and hatred, plus some envy sprayed in between. One way or another, males were not happy to see you. Many a young lad she had observed in the Yards would walk past faster than was per normal; she would not have gotten them to leave more quickly if she had etched upon her shawl the dragon’s fang. If Aes Sedai were feared because people were mostly ignorant of little outside of stories, then her Ajah would inspire no confidence in this man, this Gaidin who seemed to mistrust everybody.


Then she recalled her first test, standing with her Sisters of the blood, of the heart. She had just gained her right to the Shawl, and was petitioning perhaps the loneliest Ajah. Her Sisters were the most optimistic people she knew, and together they united to prevent another Breaking. They also pledged to support each other, to be true in face of all the confusion, the stereotypes. Was this not precisely what she had been warned of? Very well, she would grant him what he asked for. Her back, sore from the day’s riding, still straightened, and her neck arched higher. She did not wish to control herself. She was the Red Ajah, and proud of it.


Then he surprised her by giving her what she had asked for the first moment they met. His name. Corwin, she repeated that to herself, imprinting the name on her mind. It was a gracious gesture of his understanding, and would not go undeserved.


“The name’s Saline.” Wastrel was her surname, formerly a noble’s heir, but it was a life she had abandoned long since entering herself in the Novice book. It was neither given, nor asked for. Most Aes Sedai kept clear of biases toward their native lands and status, and Saline had adopted this custom eagerly when first she came to the Tower, putting away the beads in her curls. The only giveaway that she was a Taraboner was that accent, the lilt that thickened when she became agitated. At the moment, one could barely tell.


No talk felt necessary, as they cleaned up and prepared for bed. The stars could be seen clearly from where she had lain, but she chose to prop herself by the elbow and peek at him instead. He had curled back into the regular cloak, although he was not lying down. She had an idea that he was keeping guard, and would offer to cleanse him of fatigue, but weighed in the fact he might not appreciate her weaving on his person. In any case, he might do better with few sound hours of sleep later on. Drawing the blanket over her head, her voice was quiet, but he heard her anyway.


“Good night, Corwin.”

“Night, Aes Sedai.


As she fell into a dreamless sleep, that made her smile. She would have to work, but somehow she wanted to, and that made all the difference.


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Corwin watched as she fell asleep, her slow rythmic breathing...going deeper and deeper into sleep.  It was time for his training, but he didn't know how to do it on the road.  As he had searched around for sitting logs, he had found a fell tree.  As he left, he looked back to see how far she was away.  It was only a few spans, she should be ok.  As he climbed up, his boot slipped on some tree moss.  The  tree must have been felled for a while.


Regaining his ballance and pulling his swords he began going through the forms, he gained more and more confidence.  Suddenly his foot hit a rough patch of wood and he felt his leg go crashing through the log...it was half rotten it seemed.  The sound wasn't the softest either.  As he turned his head he saw Saline looking around.  "Sorry for waking you Aes Sedai."  Taking his leg out of the tree, Corwin sheithed his blades and went to his sleeping bag.


I wont make any more noise to disturb your rest.  We shall see...  Corwin didn't know what to make of the response but he went back to his guard duties.  After some time, he put the fire out and decided he needed rest himself.  He would hear anyone approaching.


Only the night didn't promise anything more.  Only nightmares of Eleanore finding out about his daughter and ripping her to pieces.  He awoke in a cold sweat.  It had been a long time since he had a dream about her.  But it was time to put her in his past and leave it there.  Grabbing his clothes he attended to the morning chores.  A fire was always the first thing the warm the morning up.



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She awoke disorientated and blinking for many moments into the darkness, until by the waning fire her eyes had adjusted and could make out the figure approaching the circle. It was Corwin, apologising for her scare, and pledging such an incident would not happen again. “We shall see,” came the faint response before she went back to sleep.


In the morning the name of Corwin’s Aes Sedai came back to her. The night before she had been too overwhelmed, but after her daily brew of tea she began to waken and the gears in her brain no longer creaked. Why was it that the Greens always captured our hearts? At the thought of her darling, she smiled fondly, for though Rory wasn’t near her, she was still the closest to Saline’s heart. At one point Corwin must have been hurt pretty badly by this Eleanor of his, and though it was not crucial to her mission, one day she would find out the why and how.


Poor man was already up by the hour she rose herself, and stared into a vigorous fire looking worse for the wear than when he went to bed the night before. She noted the half moons under his eyes and wondered if he slept at all. She’ll admit, she worried about his well-being more than she cared to show him.


Being with Rory fulfilled her want for happiness, but being with Corwin affected her much the same way going to the Amyrlin’s chamber and swearing on the Oath rod would have. By existing Corwin had affirmed her faith, in one belief at least. Everybody had sticking points, and Saline would never bond, no matter what happened. Corwin was more than a failed Warder only though, for how could Saline say he had failed? If the Reds had not prevented another Breaking, the light forbid it ever reoccur, but would the Aes Sedai be called failed Reds, or would there be other options, to live on, and to salvage?


That meandered back to the mission they had embarked on. What if the Reds could not prevent another Breaking? Would it not be her duty to preserve the knowledge of this Age, just in case? It was never a guarantee, only the hope, akin to the way the Greens had prepared for the Last Battle. Hope was nice, but she needed more than hope. What she had come up with was a contingency plan, and its execution would depend on the success of this journey.


Daunting, was it not? Even in the private recesses of her own mind, it sounded terrifying. But the start was the most difficult, and hardest step right? She was surprised he hadn’t asked about the purpose of her, their mission yet, but she would not inform him unless he queried.


“Morning, sunshine." playfully, and then in more serious tones. "Let’s make for the main road after breakfast.”


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Corwin didn't feel like playing.  He was exhausted.  But he knew he needed to go on.  Perhaps tonight he would sleep better.  He might just have to admit he couldn't do things like he used to.  He was getting older, but he never wanted to admit that.


As they set out Corwin could feel the exhaustion going through him, but he didn't care.  He could last till this evening.  The day progressed so uneventfully until lunch.  He could see by the way she got down that she wasn't the most comfortable riding.  Corwin wasn't the most graceful dismounting either.  But it didn't matter.  As he rode, his scimitars were strapped around his saddle.  Easy access while he rode, just in case...


As they ate, Corwin heard a twig snap too late.  He felt the blunt end of a sword smack him in the beack side of his head.  He faked falling as if he was knocked out, just completely relaxing his body as he went down.  "You...you will pay for my hand!  It was him, the man that had tried to cut Saline Sedai's purse the other night.  Corwin had thought he was in the men that attacked them shortly after that...but apparently not.


Bouncing up and drawing his Katanas, Corwin saw the man had Saline Sedai.  She must have been as  surprised as him.  Spining her around, Corwin and the man were in a bit of a faceoff.  Move and she di...AGGGHHHHH!  The woman didn't wait for anything.  Biting into his forearm, Corwin went in as he screamed.  It was a quick death, the man didn't put up much of a fight.  Corwin didn't know why he had followed, but he obviously was going to be a problem if he had followed them this far.


The rest of the day went in silence.  Neither wanted to say much of anything.  But Corwin knew he needed to do a better job protecting her if he was going to keep his word.



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Blast her staggering incompetence. It had gotten a man killed, and could have gotten either Corwin or her killed along with that thief. Saline had stared down her nose at the dead man for a long time before draping her blanket over him. Sensibility transformed Saline: her generous lips pursed, a withering rosebud, and the cropped curls drooped into her face, wearing a strange expression… Anger.


Things moved too slow, far too slow for her liking. Several times Corwin went to scout ahead, but with her insistence on speed they had not bothered to hide their tracks, nor did they clear away evidence of the fire last night. Saline swallowed hard, trying to calm down. The man, easily recognisable from the Prancing Horse, had snuck up on Corwin and herself unawares, and they had killed him. It had been her fault, she persuaded the Gaidin that they would be fine, and now that their attacker had paid with the coin of his mortality, she was to be blamed. This bloodshed, this waste of life could have been spared had she permitted Corwin to work on their trail like he wanted, but she was too confident, a false confidence that had brashly put both of them into jeopardy.


To be fair, the possibility of that thief catching up to them, and trying to make them pay for his wronged hand was very, very bleak. What idiot would take on two to one, even if the element of surprise was on his side, after seeing how Corwin had beaten the daylight out of five men who were able to use both hands? Most people who weren’t freaks would cut their losses and skedaddle, damaged right hand and all, but there you go. People never ceased to amaze Saline, and sometimes it was not altogether that wholesome a manner either. However she played with the unlikely circumstances, she was not ready for the ambush.


Odd enough was how disappointingly she had reacted. When the thief made his appearance, she knew better than to embrace Saidar and bind him in Air. But instead of unsheathing her scimitar, she stood aside debating with herself if she could, technically, attack the thief without him striking first. Then again, Corwin wasn’t her Warder and he certainly didn’t need her help. Nonsense, a voice had piped up, of course she could, since the thief was attacking them. Right, whatever, she’ll just wait on the sidelines until the Warder took the man out.


Or maybe he did want her help. Alright, the Warder was knocked out. That shook her sense of physical well-being, and when she finally bent her mind around the disbelief that an older Warder was bested by a one handed thief, the attacker’s other arm locked her neck in a stranglehold. She reckoned that could count as an attack on her person, and her mission would certainly be dampened if Corwin had croaked while dispatching the thief. Saline did not just nibble, but rather clamped her teeth into the man, literally smelling the dirt, and the metallic taste of blood. Jumping to safety as he released her, Saline spat out pink wads, disgusted. “Ugh, I need some mint.”


Corwin had recovered from his faint by then, and went at the man wielding dual blades. A gruesome but quick sight unfolded as the Warder ended their threat, before the man could come back and claim payment for his other, bitten arm as well.


Never easy to admit, but people made mistakes and that was life. So was replaying the scenes over and over again, wondering where things started going so wrong. Perhaps one of the most frightening moments was when their ambusher had knocked out Corwin. Again, she had been buoyed by the false confidence that the Warder would be able to take care of any attackers, while now she considered the implications of bringing along an older fighter. He was more experienced sure, but he could be rusty from not engaging in battles constantly, and although he trained nightly, when a man hit that age, his body would start breaking down from all that hard use. His back could hurt, like Saline’s did sometimes, or maybe he’d have pains in his joints on a particular day. There was also the very real possibility of him being more easily injured, as his body betrayed him for sleep, or other conditions the youths didn’t need. She realised this meant he would probably need her to fight with him. Not that she harboured any disillusions about the extent of her abilities with the scimitar, but just drawing their attacker’s attention away from the Gaidin would give Corwin time to rescue her, if need be. Perhaps in the city she too would dress as a mercenary. Corwin and she would be two mercenaries, traveling together, looking for work. Yes, that story would do, and she knew enough basic stances to pass for a guardswoman.


This time when they rode they were always apart. When he was not circling behind them, he spurred his mount forward into the unknown territories, purging any dangers before she stepped into their path.


After one last check, and a ward against intruders before they ate dinner (and lots of mint), Saline thought of a way to relieve some of the uneasiness and heaviness that incident had left in both of them. She had stopped brooding, knowing it did her no good. Sometimes simple, old remedies work better than any elaborate wording, and there was nothing like some exercise to get somebody’s mind off a certain subject in the past, and unto the present. Besides, this would be an activity he'd enjoy. People tend to enjoy what they were good at, most of the time.


“Hey, big guy: how about you teach me something you know?” Without waiting for his acknowledgement and agreement, she went into a crouch, that starting position Lyssa had trained her. Moving even more quickly she executed a form, Courtier Tapping his Fan, and grinned as her scimitar was parried by another. Clang, the metal kissed noisily before springing apart. She nodded with approval.


“You’re really quick, Corwin! Who was your Mentor?”


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Corwin couldn't help but smile, she didn't know near what she thought she did with a sword.  But it was ok.  My mentor was long before your time.  Now if you want my training...  Grabbing a couple bags Corwin began filling them with dirt.  When they were both filled, Corwin tied them together and put them both around her shoulder.  What in the Light are you...?  You said you wanted training, then start running around and doing laps.  She had a defiant look set in, No?  Then you better go over the training you know before you want MY training.


It wasn't the best way, but he didn't need her trying to do something stupid.  It was going to be a long few days.  As the days went on, Corwin and Saline found little trouble, save the occasional wild animal.  She knew more then he thought she might, but it still wasn't much.  Eventually their trust built with eachother.  Trust that either had to be built or they would never make it together.  Through the days Corwin slowly trained her more and more, atleast she could look like she knew what she was doing with a blade.


As their destination came on the horizon, Corwin knew whatever they were going for, he would find out just how over his head he was.  He knew the Aes Sedai and he knew better than to just ask them what was going on.  They would never give exactly what was going on.  Red's he had never dealt with, so he was going to have to judge things from the side.  Their last night camping all he could only ask one thing, If this gets worse then you expect...you going to let me know?  A nod of the head was all he got, but he knew it was more than most would give.


The next morning their first priority was finding the right Inn.  One that wouldn't arrouse suspicion of too much money, but one that wouldn't give them trouble either.  The found one after a solid hour of searching, The Two Princes.  But it was all they needed for the morning.



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Saline was agog. She didn’t know him but from that moment on she knew what kind of person he was. She professed to be weak, and he was a real dirtbag, Saline’s mind agreed as she ran, miffed at what transpired. She disliked being touched around the shoulders, and there he was fashioning two dense packs around them like they belonged to a beast of burden. Her eyes wanted to fry him where he stood: they saw red, a color that tasted ugly - rather like that of briny pickles. Corwin paid her no mind; she had wanted his training, and he would give her what she asked for, unadulterated forms bringing back all the stitches and groans from basic fitness. He stretched some more, flexible as a cat, when she ran by. It was a way to keep occupied, and she did not mind so much as the laps dragged on, and somehow something altered in way he regarded her, reducing the pain she felt as he smiled. She couldn’t help but to smile back, more and more over the several nights they trained together, him with his warhammer, and her adjusting to the extra weight.


He had to put up with her warding their dreams later on, just as much as she had to bite her lip whenever he picked up the sacks and filled them with earth. He still did not permit her to heal the occasional bruise or scratch, yet she considered the scars on his back and reckoned this was more from habit than mistrust, and learned to leave his wounds alone, although she could not agree with suffering when one could be more comfortable. Each scar was a lesson, he had muttered before shooing her off, and she did not pry anymore. All would be told if need be.


They were only several leagues away from the border when he surprised her, and not for the last time. Instead of training they were seated by their circle, and knowing the destination was near, he made an awkward inquiry. That he wished to help her if she required assistance gave her more warmth than the fire, and she had to duck her head to hide her smile. A nod of the head was all she would give, and then she filled the sacks with dirt herself. Training at night felt good.


Morning. There were two mercenaries looking for a place to crash, and before the afternoon commenced they had decided upon The Two Princes, a decent sized setup by the look of things, and she dug out the coins for two separate rooms for the night. He might have appeared surprised, she couldn’t tell, but she sounded firm about it, insisting on absolute solitude for a long overdue bath after their days abroad. He was in for another surprise, but one he would find the following morning. By the time he woke she would be gone. But her goodbye remained to be read on the floor, where she had slipped an envelope under his door.


She had never liked to move things, always preferred leaving the objects alone so to leave any traces of herself. Though a bed near the window was nice, it would do against the wall as well, facing the closet. Most people liked to put their personalities into the rooms, but she didn’t bother. It was a place for her to rest, before she picked up her readily packed belongings and moved on. But this time she did leave an item, another behind.


A twist of honeysuckles and apples scents was all that remained in her room. His room, however, held that envelope, and in it was her handkerchief, his if he chose. She had told him what it was, and it would be up to him to trust her, or discard it, just as once it was the Tinker who had given her his last gift, not knowing she would accept it, or someday give it to somebody else who needed that hope. Sure, like the other Aes Sedai she had offered him a string, this bond of a sort, but it was one he could always refuse.


Keepsake for Corwin. It’ll also track the person, so I may know where you are if I need help, or just some more training.


She signed it Red. Clucking to Gryngolet, she was off. But not without brushing down the Warder’s horse first. Saline didn’t fare well with horses, to be sure, yet something about leaving the creature tore a little piece of her.


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